Annual Hurricane Forecast Prompts Readiness
With the official June 1 hurricane season opening, forecasting
organizations have released their rough predictions for this year's
storm activity. Hurricane expert Dr. William Masters sums up the
consensus of three forecasting organizations on his
Weather Underground blog: "All three major seasonal forecasting
groups [the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Colorado State
University (CSU), and British private forecaster Tropical Storm Risk, Inc.
(TSR)] are calling for a near-average Atlantic hurricane season in
According to Masters' blog, the long-range forecasts tend to be
slightly more accurate than a simple guess based on averages. June
estimates by the Colorado State researchers, for example, "have
historically offered a skill of 20 - 30% higher than a 'no-skill'
forecast using climatology," Masters says. What really will happen,
of course, is still anyone's guess.
The NOAA forecast, for example, is quite broadly worded: NOAA
estimates "a 50% chance of a near-normal season," but also "a 25%
chance of an above-normal season and a 25% chance of a below-normal
season." More specifically, NOAA offers 70% confidence that this
year will see 9 to 14 named storms, 4 to 7 hurricanes, and 1 to 3
major hurricanes in the Atlantic and Gulf regions.
More than anything, the annual forecasts serve as notification to
people living on the coast that, yes, hurricanes do come in summer
and fall, and, yes, someday one will actually strike where you live
(if you live that long). And, yes, it could actually be this
Responsible politicians took the opportunity to urge citizens to
get ready. Charlie Crist, governor of Florida, designated May 24-30
as "Hurricane Preparedness Week." A TampaBay.com
blog followed Governor Crist as he helped a St. Petersburg
family stock up on emergency supplies at the Home Depot.
After a meeting with FEMA officials, even President Obama got in
on the act, urging Americans to take personal responsibility for
hurricane readiness. The McClatchy news service covers the
President's comments ("Obama: Hurricane
readiness is residents' responsibility," by Steven Thomma).
Unfortunately, most coastal residents aren't heeding the advice.
That's according to a Mason-Dixon poll released in May. The survey
of 1,100 adults from Texas to Maine found that more than half of
respondents are not prepared for a storm. Forty-eight percent do
not have flood insurance, and about 16% mistakenly think that the
government will provide emergency food, water, and other basics
immediately after a catastrophic storm strikes. (In fact, says
FEMA, government resources are not sufficient to meet all emergency
requirements in major hurricanes.) The South Florida Sun-Sentinel
covers the poll results ("Poll:
More than half of coastal residents in U.S. aren't ready for a
hurricane," by Ken Kaye). Homeland Security Today magazine has
coverage in two stories ("2009 hurricane
season is here," by Michael Peltier, and "Hurricane, disaster
preparedness complacency continues to grow," by Anthony L.
Federal officials voiced particular concern about the state of
readiness in parts of the coast that haven't been hit by storms in
a long time. Despite their run of good luck, those regions are
statistically as likely to get struck in any given year as any
other part of the coastline. "Areas that have been hit recently
actually tend to be more responsive to [the risk]," pointed out
Louis Uccellini, who directs the National Weather Service's National
Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), at a
White House briefing on May 29. "We are particularly concerned
for areas where there's been a tremendous population growth and
have not experienced a hurricane. These people do not really fully
comprehend or understand the types of dangers that face them,
whether it's wind, rain, or a storm surge." And Uccellini observed,
"It only takes one storm — one land-falling storm — to
make for a bad season."
In truth, residents of hurricane country probably still have
months to get ready. Historically, storms rarely make landfall in
June. According to storm expert Dr. Masters, one factor that
predictors use – the Tropical Cyclone Heat
Potential (TCHP) – measures the temperature of ocean
water to a depth of about 150 meters. The deeper the layer of warm
water, the higher the TCHP (over 80 supports rapid hurricane
formation). As the map below shows, TCHP levels in May of 2009
where far below the record highs from May 2005.
Over the course of decades, of course, every coastal state gets
hit by storms — repeatedly. These images of historic storm
tracks for Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, and
Massachusetts, dating back to the 1850s, are provided by the NOAA.
The pictures tell the story — it's not a question of whether.
It's only a question of when.